Everyone knows I’m a fan of Disney horses. I love visiting the horses at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, where they keep the carriage and trolley horses, including the white ponies who pull Cinderella’s glass carriage. Last year, Disney opened a beautiful new barn and visitor’s area, but because of the pandemic, I didn’t get to visit.
Well, I finally got to pay a visit to the Happiest Horses on Earth, and I was not disappointed. The old barn was a rather dark center-aisle that was pretty much like every barn in Central Florida in the 80s and 90s. It looked almost exactly like the hunter barn where I learned to ride, and the boarding stable where I kept my first horse, and a dozen other barns I’ve been to in the Orlando area! The new one is lighter, airier, and has run-outs attached to each stall. It looks better for the horses and for the ranch-hands who take care of them.
And it’s great to visit! They built a special show barn at the front where visitors can see horses and take pictures, watch horses get groomed and bathed, see the pony-sized harness in a glass-fronted carriage room, explore Walt Disney’s love of horses and the equestrian heritage of the Walt Disney Company, and check out the incredible antique steam calliope which used to come out for holiday parades in the parks. (I haven’t seen this calliope in action since 2006, personally.)
Here’s a look at what I saw on my visit:
The first thing I spotted was an entire hitch – six white ponies – getting bathed for an evening wedding! You can walk right up to this big outdoor washrack and talk to the ranch hands doing the hard work of scrubbing and primping these ponies. They told me it takes two hours to wash and dry the ponies before a wedding. And you know how light-colored horses get dirty IMMEDIATELY, so that means every wedding gets this kind of salon treatment. A LOT of work, especially in the heat.
Visitors are only permitted in the special show barn at the front of the ranch. There are eight stalls, all facing out. We saw four horses inside: three Percherons, and a Clydesdale. Everyone was snoozing or finishing up their lunch hay. The stalls are spacious and very deeply bedded in pine shavings. While we were there, a ranch hand was dusting the railings – now that’s my kind of show barn!
The stalls are roped off to keep kid’s fingers from being eaten – pretty smart. The barrier actually makes them the perfect distance for selfies! This gorgeous gray Percheron is named Grady.
Just a beautiful Percheron taking a nice nap. The stalls are nice and deep, and really airy with all the open bars. Perfect for central Florida, where the prevailing breeze could be from the east, west, north, or south on any given day!
The pony rides at Fort Wilderness have always been really unique because instead of having a little corral to walk around, they have a long “track” type area. This one is new and quite sunny but hopefully the shade trees they’ve planted in the middle will grow up soon.
These ponies are waiting for pony ride custom. Surprise! The one in the center is Lilly, and she’s not taking rides. Just having a bit of grown-up time. Lilly is two years old and was made famous in this adorable photo when she was a wee filly:
Weirdly enough it was kind of easy to recognize her! I guess it’s that pink skin and the shape of her profile.
I am not a fan of pink-skinned horses but there’s no denying the charm of that photo. I just wonder how big poor Cinderella’s bruises were when they finally got the perfect shot. If you kneel in front of a foal you’re GOING to get stomped and pawed. That’s just what they do!
But as one of my readers on Facebook pointed out, a few bruises would be worth it for that photo.
The rest of the barn where the work is done is visible from the show barn, although this view is as close as visitors can get. I love the use of poles and light colored metal, and the translucent panels in the roof. I am guessing this barn was designed by someone back in Disney’s home base in California. I know they use a lot of metal poles in construction there, but I’ve never seen anything like it in Florida.
All in all, I spent a really happy half an hour or so enjoying the horses and chatting with the ranch hands at Tri-Circle D Ranch. They’ve done a stellar job and it’s a real showplace!
Afterwards, we enjoyed a delicious lunch of fried chicken and fixin’s alongside the beautiful expanse of Bay Lake, just a short walk away. Fort Wilderness also has ferry service to the Magic Kingdom, or you can walk around the campground, which has nature walks, some shopping, canoe rentals, and more. It’s a very peaceful and beautiful place. I really recommend a visit!
If you have a little one who wants a pony ride, even better!
You can read my (totally fictional) account of horses and theme parks in Horses in Wonderland, the second book in my Show Barn Blues series.